KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s offense could find itself in crisis mode by the end of August if new playmakers don’t emerge behind juniors John Kelly at running back and Jauan Jennings at receiver.
The Vols lack proven talent at the skill positions, and banking on true freshmen seems like a stretch if the team is to compete for a championship.
Coach Butch Jones, however, has a card up his sleeve in the form of Evan Berry.
Berry ranks as one of the most elite kick return men in the nation, and his open-field running ability, speed and vision could make him a threat on offense should Jones choose to use him there.
And, if Berry is healed from the season-ending knee injury he suffered last season, why wouldn’t he?
Senior safeties Todd Kelly Jr. and Micah Abernathy join rising sophomore at safety, all figuring to get more snaps than Berry on defense. Incoming freshman Maleik Gray is the sort of talent that will warrant some snaps at safety, too.
Jones ran the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Berry on an end around in a game last season, so the head coach has experimented before, and he has shown he is willing to do what it takes to win when it comes to personnel moves.
Jones’ modified spread set a Tennessee school record last season for points and touchdowns in a season, and even with first-year coordinator Larry Scott at the helm, the head coach will have some say.
Really, which Vols’ player could do more damage with the ball in his hands in the open field than Berry, who led the nation in kick return average two seasons ago and was No. 2 in the country last year before suffering the knee injury.
Berry would make an ideal third-down back or could line up wide and go in motion, posing a jet sweep threat that would force defenses to show their hand and account for him.
The returning position players and incoming freshmen will obviously get the first crack at tailback and receiver, but if Jones doesn’t see the speed or explosivity he needs on the perimeter, don’t be surprised if he experiments more with Barry.
As Jones has said at practice before, “If you’re juice-less, you’re useless!”
SEC Country’s Mike Griffith and WNML’s Josh Ward dive deeper into the depth chart and explain why its more likely than not that Jones will give more consideration to using Berry on offense this season.